I woke up to darkness, and a sense of undeniable, sickening fear and confusion. The pillow my face was partially buried in smelled like nothing but clean, and it was chilled wherever I had not touched. The blankets smelled and felt the same way, and when I pressed my hand down, it was soft, not as firm as my bed was. I sat up and tried to make out details. The knot in my gut eased a little.
I was still in Archades, and Drace had gone. I didn't know what time it was, and that…scared me. Until of course, I remembered that I had said goodnight and lain down of my own accord…I was wearing a soft nightgown, which I just barely remembered getting into.
I pulled the bed sheets aside, sliding my feet onto the cool rug on the floor before standing up, moving swiftly and silently to the door. Opening it as quietly as I could, I winced at the light that immediately flooded my vision, before squinting and looking around. Nobody seemed to be out there…
I went back to the desk, grabbed my glasses and my hair tie, putting my glasses on and pulling my hair back quickly into a tight ponytail. Then I went back to the door, slipping out and not closing it the whole way.
"If Vaan can do this, so can I…" I breathed, looking left and right. The halls were lit by candles on the walls, and they cast eerie shadows through the area. It was like I scene straight out of some horror movie, minus the cobwebs necessary for any true film of that genre.
The main difference between what I was doing now and what Vaan and I had done back in Rabanastre was that we were trying to get in back there, and now I wanted out.
But then…something inside of me flickered out, and I turned around and went back to the door that was still opened a tiny crack, went in, closed the door, and lay down again after taking my glasses off.
It was a restless, nightmarish sleep. There was rain, again, but this time when I awoke, I heard a pitter-patter against a window, and I realized before I opened my eyes, that it was raining.
The room was dimly lit, so it was daytime, at least. But wait…
…I'd been allowed to sleep in?
Three knocks on the door.
"Come in, Drace!" I shouted from the bathroom, my eyes shut as I yanked the hairbrush through a couple snarls. The door opened, and I opened my eyes to look in the mirror, to see into the other room. It was indeed Drace who came in, and I felt a knot of tension uncoil in my belly. "Good morning!" I couldn't by any means place the source of my merry mood, but perhaps it was fake; an act put forth to calm both myself and Drace. The last thing I wanted was for the only person that seemed sane and polite to worry.
"Afternoon, actually," she corrected good-naturedly. I merely smiled, looking back at myself in the mirror. I looked…presentable, I supposed, but still very pirate-like. "How are you fairing today?"
"I'm…okay. Confused, and a little nervous. But…I'm good, all things considered. How are you?"
"I am well, my lady." Part of me was pleased by the respect in those words, but the majority of my person felt very, very uncomfortable with that (she'd already gone back to the formalities…).
"Drace…you don't have to call me that." I smiled at her through the mirror. I wondered if she could see that well with her helmet on… but after a moment, she took it off, holding it under her arm.
"…I…Forgive me…" There was a short, hesitant pause. "Estelle. It is a habit."
"No reason to apologize, I just don't want you having to address me so formally…" I laughed a little, pulling me hair back and into a floppy bun. I'd gotten dressed only a few minutes earlier, and once I finished fiddling with the bun, I tied my bandana on (well, I as brought in as a pirate, I would face Archadia as one). "So um…did you need something?"
"Vayne has arrived," she said after a moment, and immediately my heart sank, "and has requested that I bring you to him." She didn't seem happy at all to tell me this…it was fairly obvious she didn't approve of Vayne. At all. I sighed, and smiled, appreciating her kindness throughout the night before…
"All good things come to an end, I suppose…" I didn't plan on living much longer if I was stuck here. Quite honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if I tried to kill Vayne when I met him. Maybe that would get me executed sooner.
"Not all," Drace replied softly.
"For me," I said, shrugging a little and put my bandanna on. "I've lost everything, and now my freedom has gone with it…I'm not trying to guilt trip you, I promise."
"I know," she said.
"Well…I don't want to keep him waiting. For your sake as well as mine."
There were guards patrolling as usual, but I was surprised to see a lack of them in the hallway I was lead to by Drace. She brought me to a door at the end, and I felt that my fate rested beyond it.
It probably did.
"Your Excellency," Drace said as she opened it, "I have brought the young lady as you asked."
"Ah, good," came a man's voice that I felt like I knew too well already, "You are dismissed."
I didn't dare to look at him already but instead looked at Drace, who nodded to me once as if wishing me good luck before she left. For some reason I pulled the door shut behind me, but lingered near it as if was afraid to go further into the room…and I was. After a short silence my ears picked up on something I recognized as a pencil on paper, and I finally looked up.
"…" I felt like I should say something, anything, but…I couldn't think of anything. I felt strange suddenly as I saw Vayne Solidor sitting down at a desk, writing on a document with a quill. What was the feeling though…nostalgia? That didn't even make sense…but that's what it felt like.
"I must apologize for my delay," Vayne said suddenly, making me jump a little. He hadn't yet looked up, and for that I was a bit glad. But he looked so normal in a strange way, sitting there writing with his hair falling over his shoulders. I lost focus for a moment, feeling light-headed and a bit nauseated. I hoped I wasn't going to faint… "I had some duties to attend to. And I am very sorry about the Nalbina incident; I was planning on having you removed from there as soon as possible, but I didn't want to draw any more attention to you." I tilted my head. "By the time I had gone to make arrangements, you had slipped away with a band of pirates." I opened my mouth to try to speak, but I couldn't, even though I was so angry… "They escaped again, by the way, from Ghis. His failure has not gone unnoticed this time, I assure you." What was he…talking about? "However, I suppose it is good news for you, as you seemed quite fond of them. Quite strange."
"What is?" I managed to ask, taking a few slow steps towards him. Another very, very strange thing that happened; my voice was steady and curious, not reflecting at all my inner turmoil.
"You're not a trouble-maker," Vayne stated as if he knew me. And I frowned, because he was right. "You never have been. You've always preferred to stay out of dangerous situations." I was closer now, staring at him from about five feet away. And at last he looked up at me with a smile on his face, saying, "you may sit down," as he gestured to the seat across from his on my side of the desk. "Or of course, you may stand if you're more comfortable that way." He was…scaring me. He was speaking as if he'd known me all my life, which he hadn't—had he? No, no…and that smile…Vayne…he just…something was otherworldly about this…
"Vayne," I murmured. I hadn't…tried to say his name. It had just come out like some of the random stuff I usually say. I didn't feel well; my head was spinning and my vision was going in and out of focus, and my heart was pounding against my ribcage. My legs started to feel a little…numb, and so I sat down, staring into my lap. I didn't feel well. My heart was fluttering so quickly…so hard…it was hard to swallow.
"So, I am under the impression that you call yourself Estelle DeCarleton now."
"Yeah," I replied quietly, raising my eyes to give him a strange look.
"Now," the man said, rising to his feet, "Can you look me in the eyes and tell me what your name is?" It was almost an order, and I didn't understand the reason, but I felt queasy and didn't want to look at him.
But I did, I kept my eyes locked on his, my heart racing faster and faster as I spoke. "I'm Estelle…DeCarleton…"
And then suddenly the door burst open and I got to my feet and twisted around to look. There was a Judge there.
"Your Excellency-" the Judge began before another voice cut in.
"Lord Brother!" Larsa shouted, running into the room, "They said that-"
Larsa's eyes and mine met for only a moment before I looked to the man behind him. There was a heavy, loud silence in the air, and someone's hitching, growling voice boldly broke it.
"Control yourself, Estelle." It was only when Vayne called me off had I realized I had been the one speaking; I had taken a long stride forward and had my right arm partially drawn back, ready to bust my knuckles on steel or iron or whatever the hell Archadians used for armor. I could faintly make out eyes blinking within the eye-holes of the helmet the Judge wore from where I stood.
Somewhere in my subconscious as I whirled around and stepped towards Vayne, I could hear myself thinking, 'I'm very much in control.' My fist was drawn back again, and I was ready to deck the Emperor's son, snarling again like an animal. However instead of bracing himself, Vayne simply stared down at me, and all time seemed to halt. His eyes were dark brown; and as much as I'd like to say they were cold and empty, they were only slightly detached, but very human. Full of emotion.
I didn't have time to lower my arm as I decided to; the Judge that had been in the room had grabbed me by my forearm, hauling me back a couple feet.
"That's quite alright Your Honor; she is quite unsettled." With a grunt, the man released my arm as subtly commanded; like a trained hound. Like he had no fucking clue that I was one of the people that let his brother go. I bared my teeth at him, replicating all too well the sound of an animal snarling.
"Please, My Lady, withhold your wrath! Gabranth, may I ask that you wait outside?" I glared at Larsa, falling silent, but I saw his eyes grow wide. "…Estelle, please."
"…My Lord." I could hear heavy clanking, and turned my head slightly to see Gabranth leaving the room. The door shut behind him, the sound making my hands clench into tight fists. Something about the slamming door made me want to…want to bite something.
"Please, cease your ridiculous behavior; it is far below even the level you stand at now," Vayne sighed out, seeming utterly exasperated. I turned my glaring gaze from Larsa to Vayne. I wanted desperately to slap him, and he was well within range. I could also go for yanking his hair, but that was just…stupid. I could get him between the knees, too, if not for that…thing there that seemed to be a piece of armor. Just dangling there. It looked stupid. But it would bruise my ankle and I'd only get in a glancing blow.
"You…" I ran his last words through my head and the insult struck hard. "You, just you try to tell me where you think I stand!"
"He meant nothing by it! Please, Estelle!"
Vayne's gaze shifted to Larsa and his expression become one that I recognized as that of a frustrated older sibling. "Larsa-"
"Vayne," I bit out, guiding Larsa behind myself with an arm. My protective instincts had kicked in. Again. I adored Larsa, near-stranger to him or not. Vayne's posture straightened when I'd never seen it slack, but I'd clearly startled him. Mood swing after mood swing…Guess he can't handle the overload of Estrogen in the room, I thought almost smugly. That and most Archadians most likely wouldn't refer to him by his given name to his face. Especially women. Archadian women probably swooned and turned into fancy little puddles at his feet.
Vayne's right hand raised and I readied myself for anything, which left me blinking somewhat amusedly when he tucked a few strands of hair back over his shoulder. They'd seemed to have fallen when he jolted. A long sigh escaped his lips and his eyes moved to the papers on his desk. "You walk a very thin line," Vayne stated slowly and for a moment I thought it was a threat, until he continued—"It's time you stepped down to one side."
"I'm not teaming up with you," I spat, working the puzzle pieces together from what little he'd told me. "I'd rather-"
"Die? Oh, I know you would. You gladly die for the sake of Dalmasca. I saw that little stunt you pulled; trying to draw my attention away." Again my fingers curled inward, nails digging into my palms. I could feel Larsa's hand hovering a centimeter away from my right for a moment. I inhaled sharply, ready to fire back at Vayne, but Larsa finally grabbed my hand with both of his, tightly enough to let me know that he wanted me desperately to just hear Vayne out and take the verbal blows.
Take them lying down belly-up, I added mentally, not amused by Larsa's game.
However Vayne went on as if he noticed nothing. "And it worked. Not enough to achieve your goal, but you certainly had my attention for a moment."
I loved video game cutscenes in which the villain rambles on for ages (unless you die in battle and have to see it all over again). But I was getting irritated and desperate. Because the villain happened to be in front of me. Addressing me. Rambling at me.
Terrifying me. I wouldn't let him know. I unlocked my knees and straightened up, fixing my posture and gaining half an inch in height that made Vayne seem a little less intimidating. Larsa's grip tightened, but he remained unusually quiet. I almost wanted to cackle. I wanted to scare Vayne and Larsa. I wanted the upper hand.
But I wanted out of that room more.
I swayed to a side a little, an unnoticeable thing with me normally. I had bad balance, and often swayed. I shifted one foot to 'keep my balance' but I let relaxed every muscle I could control in my lower body, my eyes rolling back before I landed on the floor with a dull thud nearly muted by the carpet. I made sure my eyes were closed tightly enough not to open on their own, but I tried to keep them relaxed.
I'd heard Larsa's gasp on my way down, as I'd almost brought him down with me. "V-Vayne!" he nearly shrieked. I would have laughed if the predicament I was in allowed for such a thing, but laughing at Larsa's lack of composure while pretending to be unconscious would kind of…be idiotic. I was, however, slightly unnerved when I could feel Vayne's presence shifting closer, and he knelt down by my side. He was…relatively close.
I forced myself to keep breathing steadily as a gloved hand rested against my forehead, and then the backs of his fingers against my cheek.
"Does she require medickal attention?" I actually felt guilty when Larsa's tone bordered on panic. Though to be honest…I was more concerned with the physical contact Vayne was making. Especially when his fingers moved to my neck.
"No," Vayne said in an unreadable tone. Now, that bothered me. "Her heartbeat is a tad irregular, and her face is flushed, but it seems only to be caused by nerves."
"Even…just to be safe?"
Vayne's hand moved away…only to return to move my hair from my face, which was more unnerving than all of the actions above. "We ought to leave her here to wake on her own. Perhaps a lesson will be learned."
"Lord Brother!" Larsa gasped, and my breath caught in my attempt not to laugh at the tone. "Let us call a medick! Please, Vayne, she may be sick!"
"Calm yourself, child."
Who refers to their younger sibling as 'child?' I questioned mentally, keeping my eyes shut still.
"You are aware of the guest room she is staying in?" Vayne went on, his voice steady but not quite monotonous.
"Yes…Gabranth and I checked there for her first…before coming here." There was uncertainty in his voice, lacking the…the something that Vayne had.
"Oddly convenient. Ah, well. Perhaps you would fetch Gabranth so that he might carry her to her room? She'll be alright once she's rested."
They're so…casual but not with each other. It felt strange, like I shouldn't have been listening to them. Is…is this an act? Are they onto me? Larsa stood, and his footsteps moved in the direction of the doorway. He started to say something to Gabranth as I heard him open the door, but I was more focused on Vayne's presence.
"Reckless," came a soft sigh from above me. A moment later, I jerked but didn't open my eyes as Vayne reached his arms beneath me and lifted me, having to gather a bit of oomph to get up from his knee, and I felt him sway a little as he caught his balance. Apparently he either didn't notice my jolt, but at the same time I figured it might be natural for some sleeping people to react that way when touched.
Vayne started to walk towards heavy, clanking steps that approached. They 'met in the middle,' and I was shifted to who I assumed to be Gabranth, and I think I shuddered from my nerves.
"If she wakes, don't let her walk. She may run."
I was within biting distance of someone I wanted to utterly destroy…and he was wearing armor. There would be no biting, clawing, scratching…no acts of desperation against this man despite my anger. Even if I attacked him and caught him off guard, I doubted I could even knock him down.
This is…Basch's twin, I remembered, though I'd never really forgotten. My anger renewed itself, but I didn't attack or snarl. I let myself be carried like every other damsel in distress by an antagonist, just listening through Gabranth's footsteps for Larsa's. I couldn't tell how far we had come, but Gabranth was pretty fast for a dude in an overpriced tin can. And Larsa was young and energetic, and only had to elongate his strides a little to keep up.
Something like guilt twisted in my stomach. Not unlike fear, either…but it was something I couldn't find a word for. Not shame…though I felt vulnerable, I was relatively comfortable with the situation; I'd gotten (almost) exactly what I'd wanted. Something seemed too easy about everything. I should have been dead the day before. Or at least stripped of my belongings…the nethicite especially.
Gabranth came to a slow halt, and I heard the opening of a door. A sense of relief hit me as I realized I must have gotten brought back to my temporary room. Gabranth stepped into the room, and I could practically count down the steps needed to reach. I felt myself being lowered, and I was shocked by how nice the soft bed felt after only a bit of walking about and arguing. Gabranth pulled away, and I shifted a little as I felt part of his gauntlet begin to catch on the back ties of my vest, thankfully managing to avoid any breakage.
Larsa's hands—I could tell by both size and that he wasn't wearing gauntlets—carefully undid my hair from the tie that held it back, and then he pulled my bandanna from where it had sat. His hands moved to my vest, and I furrowed my brow, a little confused as he began to untie it with a little trouble. My hand twitched warningly. I was getting uncomfortable despite Larsa's obvious good intentions. He wanted me to be comfortable, and though I appreciated that, I really wanted him and Gabranth to go away so I could wait to be rescued by a white night that probably didn't exist.
Larsa seemed to be trying to lift my shoulders so he could slide the vest off, and though my first thought was to prop myself up on my elbows, I stayed relaxed and unmoving. He grunted with effort, and only a moment later a metal-covered hand was under my neck, lifting me enough for Larsa to slide the vest down my arms and plop it on what I assumed to be the nearby desk. Gabranth then lowered my head back down on the pillow carefully (he was really starting to piss me off) and I felt his presence back off a bit. But then I heard him moving, and moment later my boots were coming off, and I wanted to kick him. Larsa worked on pulling off my glove, which took considerable effort considering it was leather. He then carefully took my glasses from my face, and I heard their soft clattering onto the desk.
"She should be more comfortable now…" Larsa murmured, backing up a couple of steps. "Drace should be informed of her condition."
"I shall go to her, then…" Gabranth said, almost sounding eager to get out of the room.
"That's quite alright, Your Honor," Larsa said dismissively, "I'm familiar with Drace's schedule. I'd feel more comfortable if you were to stay with her for now; you're more suited to take care of any emergency."
"…Yes, my lord," the Judge Magister agreed after a long moment. Apparently I wasn't the only one that was tense and unhappy with the situation. Another moment when I wanted to laugh. My anger was dissolving a little, and for that I was honestly glad for once. Now wasn't the time to be angry. Now was a time to be sneaky.
Larsa did a good job of closing the door—I barely heard it. Something I heard a moment later, though, was a clunk on the dresser. Heavy, metallic, carefully handled.
…That…was that his helmet? He'd taken off his helmet, or so I was thinking he had. I was curious—I wanted to look at him.
It was so quiet I could hear him breathing. It was an uncomfortably awkward silence that wouldn't have been so bad on me if I was actually unconscious.
Shifting a little, I opened my right eye a tiny bit. I could see that Gabranth's head was turned to a window, but it was all a hazy blur without my glasses. Although, his head looked ridiculously tiny with all the bulky armor. And no helmet. Carefully I moved my hand up and towards the thin lavender blurs, bringing my glasses back to my face. When I looked back to Gabranth, I found that he was looking at me. A little startled, I bolted upright. He didn't look very nice…but it looked nothing like what I thought Basch would if he were angry at me.
Pressing my lips together tightly, I let myself fall back to the pillow, my eyes still on Gabranth's face. He looked like his brother…but at the same time, there was…so much that seemed off.
The eyes, for one; they seemed to angle upward more than Basch's at the outside edges. Also, the color was wrong. Basch's eyes seemed to have been grey-blue last I had seen them, while Gabranth's…they were the same color as my eyes.
And then…then, the facial structure. Gabranth had what seemed to be a shorter face than Basch…rounder.
And with the upturned nose and shaven face, Gabranth looked younger than Basch. Right down to the almost-pout as he glared down at me silently.
"…Sorry for earlier," I deadpanned, pulling my glasses off my face with my right middle and index finger, and setting them on the desk. I rolled over, facing away from him and scrambling to yank a blanket over my head.
There was a long silence.